Ken Goldberg, Artist and Roboticist


Cool Tools Show 273: Ken Goldberg

Our guest this week is Ken Goldberg. Ken is an artist, inventor, and roboticist. He is William S. Floyd Jr Distinguished Chair in Engineering at UC Berkeley and Chief Scientist at Ambidextrous Robotics. Ken’s artwork involving robots such as the Telegarden has been exhibited internationally and he founded the Art, Technology, and Culture public lecture series in 1997. He co-founded the IEEE Transactions on Automation Science and Engineering. As Director of UC Berkeley’s AUTOLab, Ken and his students have published 300 peer-reviewed papers and 9 US patents. He has presented over 600 invited lectures worldwide. You can find out everything about Ken at goldberg.berkeley.edu.

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Show notes:

Bamboo Charging Station (Example)
I think many of us can relate to the idea that you have a bunch of things around that you want to keep charged. You’ve got your laptops, your iPads, your phones, and your air pods. You also have the rechargers for those things … and what happens is, my desk was getting into be this complete spaghetti tangle of all these different things, because also the chords are slightly different. And at some point things were stacked on top of things. So I found this solution that you can go out and buy, and it’s this bamboo box that is absolutely just the right thing. It’s got 14 slots and this underbelly to it that you can put in all your chargers and all your cords. I use it constantly now. You can just sort of line up all your devices vertically, in a line like books on a shelf, and all the cords come out from the bottom, and you have all those to plug in. I have 12 devices being charged as we speak.

Swing-a-Way Jar Opener
This thing is called the Swing-A-Way Jar Opener. It’s a classic. It’s literally like a couple pieces of metal. It kind of looks a little bit like the old fashioned can openers, but it’s got this little adjustable ratchet, that ratchets up so you can set it to the width of your jar or the diameter of your jar opening. Then you squeeze down and it gets a really good grip and then gives you a great torque to open almost any jar.

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Litterbot: automated cat litterbox
This is the Litterbot, a litter-robot for cat litter. And there’s a number of these kinds of devices out there, but Litterbot is the best, and it’s a beautiful design. It’s basically a big cylinder that the cat gets in, and then it senses that the cat is in there, so it waits. And then after the cat has left, it will activate. And what it does is rotates one full turn, but it’s got this beautiful set of rakes and screens inside of it that just sort of work to turn the whole cat litter upside down, dump all the refuse into the bottom, and then turns back around and smooths out the litter.

My daughters are arachnophobes and they will screech like bloody murder when they have spotted something that might be a spider in any way, and I come running with the Bugzooka. It’s like a long, pneumatic tube. And at one end it has a sort of bellows, and so you can cock it by locking the bellows up, and then there’s a button.You put it close to the spider and then when you press the button, it creates a suction and pulls the spider into this little clear plastic zone, where you can then take it outside. I take it far from the house and then I open up and sort of put it out there. I don’t kill them. I just let them back in the nature.

Mophie Phone Charger with cable
The best charger I’ve ever found for mobile charger is something called the Mophie, and it has a built-in plug, so it’s super easy, and it’s about the size of a phone. I carry it in my pocket all the time. If you’re running low on battery juice, you just pop this thing out. It’s got the plug and it’s good to go.

Alpine email client
I use Unix every day. And Pine, or what’s now known as Alpine, is still being maintained by a loyal cadre of users. And I believe it’s out of the University of Washington. Your fingers never have to leave the keyboard, which I have to say, I love the mouse, but the mouse slows me down, and moving around, I can do a lot more by keyboard commands. Here’s an example, Mark, when you wrote to me, you CC’d Kevin, so with three keystrokes I could create a new mailing list for you and Kevin at Cool Tools and I’ll name it Cool Tools. I have thousands of these. Like I have a plumber, I just typed in plumber and boom it pops up the name and email address of a plumber. The other thing it does is I have little stock answers to things. And just by hitting a two keystroke insert, it’ll pop in a file of something else. I think this single thing has saved me, thousands of man years, personally.

Mosh: mobile persistent linux shell
I always have a terminal window open, but the cool thing is Mosh, will have persistent windows. So what does that mean? Well, if you switch over to your laptop or you’re moving around and you reopen your laptop, it’ll start a connection and get you started right where you left off. This is for Linux users, if you’re operating in Linux, and it’s a way of going back and forth.

About Ken’s projects:

Dex-Net — a Framework for Robots learning to grasp objects
The big thing we’ve been working on is a framework for robots learning to grasps objects, called Dex-Net. In a nutshell, it was the idea of using deep learning, but in a very specific way. And it was combining classic techniques, which have to do with physics and mechanics with stochastic noise and then generating lots of training examples with 3D objects that we found online, and then trading this thing so that it could very quickly learn to basically what JJ Gibson calls affordancy, which is learn where to grasp something.

AlphaGarden — a fully automated polyculture farming system
This is a project that’s actually an art and science project. It came out of the Telegarden, something we did 25 years ago, where we let people control a real robot in a living garden, and that was online for nine years. And then I’ve always wanted to come back and revisit it. But now the new idea is about AI. And so the question is, can a robot learn to tend of living garden? The answer is probably not. But we’re going to try it anyway.


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